BAY MILLS INDIAN COMMUNITY, Mich. (WJMN) – What are opioids? How are they different from other drugs? What do these substances do to my body? These are some of the questions we took to Dr. Daniel Maloney, Chief Medical Officer for Bay Mills Health Center.

What are Opioids?

“Opioids are a broad group of chemicals, substances, drugs that affects the opioid receptors in your brain, which help relieve pain. Opioids can by synthesized in a laboratory. They can also be naturally occurring such a opium which can be produced into substances such as heroin.”

Where do people get Opioids?

“There are many opioids that are legal. They are prescribed. They are controlled substances but they are still legal when they are prescribed for pain. Usually acute pain and post-operative pain. Some people take them for chronic pain. Because these are legal substances for the most part, they can be found in people’s homes. Often times people will have a prescription for an opioid that’s intended for short-term use and they may only use a few pills out of that prescription. They put them in their medicine cabinet and this happens over and over across the country. So there are pill boxes full of opioids in many communities. So that makes it easier for people to obtain if they are allowed to rummage through medicine cabinets in people’s homes.”

How does addiction work with Opioids?

“Opioids eventually cause a dependence, which means you eventually need a higher and higher dose to get the pain relief you’re looking for. And when they’re abused, they are used for the euphoric effect that makes you feel high. You need a higher and higher dose to get that high as you get used to it. This causes users to need more of it and to use more frequently. When you’re addicted to substances like opioids, it becomes pretty much the main thing in life you need to get that high. So it causes a lot of problems socially and economically. People stop seeing their family and friends because they’re looking for that high. They stop working. They stop going to school. They also need more substance which costs me, so it starts causing crime. Robberies and things like that to get their high.”

What are the health risks of Opioid addiction?

“Opioids can be dangerous in doses that are too high. Especially for someone who’s not used to using them long term. They can cause respiratory depression which means you stop breathing. They can also stop your heart. Basically you stop breathing and have a heart attack from an overdose. This can happen in lower doses from people who haven’t been using opioids. Or they can happen at very high doses for someone who’s been using opioids for a very long time and developed a tolerance and needs higher and higher amounts. At some point they make take too much and it might stop them from breathing. Also, there’s other medications that affect your breathing and your heart rate. So when these medications are mixed together. Even if they’re prescribed and legal substances, they can still be dangerous and cause that problem.

What is Methamphetamine?

“Methamphetamine is a substance which is a stimulant. So it’s not related to opioids, but it is addictive. So it is a substance of abuse. Methamphetamine causes a tremendous rush or high or euphoria. It becomes addicting with the first or second use. It causes and intense high and then a crash that happens pretty quickly. So meth users will want to reuse over and over to get that high.”

What are the effects of Methamphetamine on the body?

“Methamphetamine has different effects on the body. It’s a stimulant that causes things like very high blood pressure and constriction of the blood vessels. Which can lead to kidney failure and other heart problems. It causes tooth decay and gum disease, and skin problems. So it has a greater effect on the body in a shorter amount of time.”

How have you seen addiction impacted during the COVID-19 pandemic?

“We’ve all seen more addiction and more problems during the COVID pandemic. There’s a couple of reasons for that. The first, and they probably have equal effect. The first is social isolation. It became not only more common but almost standard. We were encouraged to socially distance from each other and for some people, that became social isolation. So when you’re isolated from other people and you have an addiction problem, you’re more likely to go deeper into that addiction. Either because you don’t have the interaction with other people or you’re by yourself and you don’t have the people to counteract your actions. Also during the pandemic, there’s been increases in stress. Both because of the illness itself, but also despair, and also not really knowing what the future holds. Plus people initially lost their jobs. That would cause any substance use to increase.”

“Another issue that has lead to the general increase in substance use is the general decrease in care during the pandemic. When the pandemic first started, a lot of offices temporarily closed or went to tele-medicine only visits. That really decreased people’s access to care. That has really continued even though most offices are open full-time at this point. People still have some hesitance to go out in public to health facilities, go to meetings, and things like that because of the feat of the pandemic.”

How can people get help?

“There really is a separation between the medical community and the legal and the police force. People can come in and what they tell us is confidential. If they think they have a substance abuse problem, if they’ve been buying medication on the street we want to get them help. We’re not going to call the police and tell them we’ve got someone who’s been buying drugs off the street. We’re not going to do that and legally we can’t. That’s a violation of their confidentiality. So I want people to know if they’re dealing with substance abuse, they should come in and seek help. We’re not going to call the police on them. We want them to get the care they need and deserve.”